Perpetual Grace

I don’t think that Moses ever thought delivering a nation from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the blessing of milk and honey in the land of promise was going to be easy. But after the Mt. Sinai debacle (Ex. 32) I wonder if he started wondering if it was even possible.

After 40 days and 40 nights on the mount in the presence of God, Moses is ready to return to the people with the commandments of God. And the people? Well, after 40 days and 40 nights with Moses out of sight, they’re ready to take their deliverance into their own hands. “Make us gods who will go before us,” they tell Aaron. And, to hear Aaron tell the story, “So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf” (32:24). Poof! “These are your gods, O Israel!”

Now that’s problematic, to say the least. Not just because it’s a grave violation of the first two commandments (which, in Israel’s defence, they have technically yet to receive), but because it reveals a gross incompatibility. A holy God in the midst of a stiff-necked people is bound to cause some collateral damage. A jealous God courting an adulterous nation is going to result in some fireworks along the way. The burning fire of majestic purity can’t help but incinerate the wood, hay, and stubble of rebellion.

And so, for the people’s protection, God says, “I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way” (33:3). Which then sparks one of the greatest conversations recorded in all of Scripture. A man on a mission who knows he can’t do it without God’s presence and power, pleads with God for His presence and power. Culminating in a plea which, I think, should be on every believer’s lips, “Show me Your glory!” (33:18)

But it’s an ask of Moses earlier in this conversation with God that’s captured my imagination this morning. An ask, it seems to me, for perpetual grace.

Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in Your sight, please show me now Your ways, that I may know You in order to find favor in Your sight. Consider too that this nation is Your people.”

(Exodus 33:12-13 ESV)

God, says Moses, You’ve said that I’m graced by You, that I’ve found favor in Your sight. Ok, if that’s true, if I have really been graced by You, then, by that grace, make known to me how You operate. Because in knowing Your ways then I will know You and Your nature more fully. And in knowing You more fully, I know that I will be even more graced by You.

If that isn’t a circular request I don’t know what is. The favor of God begetting familiarization with God, in turn begetting the favor of God.

Sounds like perpetual grace to me.

To be graced by God is to have the way made available to know God. And to know God opens the floodgate of knowing more of His overflowing grace. And that overflowing grace yields an increasingly intimate abiding with God. Which then results in experiencing even more of the grace of God. The fruit of which is knowing God, the outcome of which is more unmerited favor which, in turn, . . . you get the idea.

And that’s what’s needed for a holy God to dwell in the midst of an unholy people. A people who, though counted as righteous and holy because of the finished work of deliverance by Another who Himself was righteous and holy, are still a work-in-progress as they wander in the wilderness on their way to a promised land.

Perpetual grace, it seems to me, is the secret sauce for not being consumed by the fire of a thrice holy God while we battle against the flesh on our way to being increasingly conformed to the image of God, according to the Son of God, through the sanctifying dynamic of the Spirit of God.

Praise God for the availability of perpetual grace. Might our hearts yearn for it as did Moses.

And that too, by His grace. Only for His glory.

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Sanctified by My Glory

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not much of a handyman. Me and tools have never really become well acquainted. My hands have always been better suited to a computer keyboard than a skill saw, a drill, or a hammer. My idea of taking on a “project” is to resist the temptation to hire someone to assemble IKEA furniture.

So, as I read about the detailed instructions given to Moses for construction of the tabernacle and its furniture, I’m somewhat in awe. No way this is going to be an assemble-by-pictures endeavor using only an allen wrench and a screwdriver. From the furniture for inside the tent, to the tent and courtyard itself, to the garments for the priests who enter the tent, there’s no way you can come away thinking that there wasn’t a whole lot of work required to get things ready for the LORD God to move in.

A lot of effort. A lot of preparation. A lot of consecration. Some assembly required.

The people and the priests would need to do their part in order to know God’s presence.

But I’m reminded that ultimately it wasn’t the efforts of the people that made the tabernacle and its furnishings a sacred place. It wasn’t the garments of the priests or their elaborate ordination process that made the Holy of Holies holy. But, when all was said and done — and not minimizing what needed to be done — it was God’s glory that would sanctify God’s place.

“There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by My glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve Me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.”

(Exodus 29:43-45 ESV)

Where the glory settles, the place and people are sanctified.

Do all you want. Go big on bringing in the right materials for the job. Knock yourself out following the instructions to a tee. At the end of the day, unless the glory falls the effort is a flop.

Not saying we shouldn’t obey. Not saying we shouldn’t do our part. Not saying we shouldn’t offer up our spiritual worship, presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1). Just saying that if we’re trusting in the fruit of our efforts in order to be set apart we’re gonna miss out. We’re gonna be left out. Because, whatever we bring to the mix, the secret sauce is in the glory of God.

We may make every effort to supplement our faith according to God’s command (2Pet. 1:5), but it is God who sets us apart as living stones “being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1Pet. 2:5). We might, with holy determination and Holy Spirit enabling, purpose to walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1), but it’s a work of grace that joins us together, grows us into a “holy temple in the Lord”, and, in Christ, builds us into “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22).

It’s not by our doing that we are made holy, but through His dwelling. Not according to our making, but according to His majesty. Not by our giving or our gifting, but only by His glory.

The tabernacle in the wilderness was consecrated, ultimately, by the Glory. The living temple of God’s church is sanctified the same way. Where the glory dwells, the people are set apart.

Through His abundant grace might we know what it is to be set apart by His abiding glory.

Amen?

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Stewards of the Secrets of the Kingdom

They were just ordinary men, but they followed an extraordinary Teacher. Just regular guys from various walks of life, but increasingly coming to realize that their Master was the Son of God, the Author of life. Yup, they were just fishermen, laborers, and even tax collectors — not exactly ranking among the elite of earth — but to them, according to their Master, it had been given “to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.”

Finishing up Matthew 13 this morning. And chewing on what the kingdom of heaven is like according to the King of heaven.

It’s like a man sowing seed, the word of the kingdom, which, when it finds the right kind of soil bears fruit and yields a great harvest. Yet, while the man sows good seed, kingdom dynamics also arouse an enemy who will sow tares among the wheat.

The kingdom of heaven is like another man who sows a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but one that grows into a mighty tree. Or, it’s like unseen leaven, once it enters the mix it has a way of spreading.

It’s like a treasure hidden in a field, or a fine pearl of great value. And those who discover the presence of this treasure are willing to sell all they have in order to possess it.

And the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea which gathers fish of every kind — kingdom fish and kingdom-rejecting fish. And at the end of the age, the angels will “separate the evil from the righteous.”

Thus, Jesus reveals to His disciples the “secrets” of the kingdom, the invisible dynamics of heaven on earth. Not stuff many really cared to know about.

But these ordinary men had been granted ears to hear. Having received it, they asked questions seeking to understand it. And, they processed it. And, they internalized it.

Now, says Jesus, having stored the secrets of the kingdom of heaven in their hearts, they had a responsibility to do something with it. What they had taken in, they were also to bring out.

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.” And He said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

(Matthew 13:51-52 ESV)

The secrets of the kingdom were more than just some fun facts. Not just some ethereal pie-in-the-sky-sweet-by-and-by trivia. But what they had understood from the Master was to have utility. The secrets they had been given were to be deployed. The treasure that had been had stored up in their minds and hearts was to be regarded as a trust. They were to be stewards of the secrets of the kingdom.

And not just the new stuff, but the old stuff too. The law of Moses, the songs of David, the declaration of the Prophets serving as the foundation for the secrets of the kingdom. Not archived because of Jesus’s coming, but fulfilled. Not to be set on a shelf, but to be gloriously seen afresh as having always pointed to the Savior and the coming of His kingdom.

Seems to me, every believer should consider themselves a trained scribe. Maybe not fully trained, but trained to some degree in the secrets of the kingdom. And what they have taken in so far, they should should be ready to bring out.

And it seems to me, every believer should consider themselves also a scribe in training. Not resting on what has become old and familiar, but also ready and expecting to receive something new and fresh. Not looking from something extra-biblical, but believing that the depths of the treasures of the secrets of heaven are such that a lifetime won’t be enough to plumb them all. That every time we open the living and active Word of God, we should anticipate an encounter of the divine kind as the Holy Spirit leads us into truth as we gain new insights, or a new appreciation, for the secrets of the kingdom.

And having taken it in, the Master says, be ready to bring it out. Bring it out in how you live your own life. Bring it out in how it might impact another life.

Just ordinary men. Just ordinary women. But aren’t we also stewards of the secrets of the kingdom? I’m thinkin’ . . .

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Splendor of Holiness

Technically, I guess, it’s not written to me. I’m not a heavenly being, nor am I a mighty one. But that it was written for me is beyond dispute.

Beyond dispute not only because all Scripture is God-breathed and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2Tim. 3:16). Nor because the testimony of Scripture itself is that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4). But beyond dispute because of the stirring of my soul as I savor the words. Because of all the thoughts that flood my mind, more than I could conjure up on my own, as I read the text. These inert lines on the page priming the pump of a living and active dynamic within my person.

And this morning I’m chewing on the splendor of holiness.

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.

(Psalm 29:1-2 ESV)

In my translation it’s a call to the heavenly beings. In other translations, to mighty ones. And the command to obey is to ascribe to the Lord. To give Him His due. To acknowledge His glory, His strength, and the glory due His very nature and being. A command to worship. And though written to them, it was written for me.

And how should this worship be rendered? In the splendor of holiness. Literally in the “holy adornment” of “set-apartness.”

And as I hover of this exhortation, I ask myself, “Self, in the splendor of what, or whose holiness?” What’s the adornment referenced here? What’s the sacredness to be recognized which primes the pump of over-flowing adoration?

Is it the splendor of the holy temple of God? Worshiping in that place where the glory dwells? Is it the splendor of God, Himself? The LORD who is over all arrayed with holiness because He is holy, holy, holy? Or, is it the holy adornment of the worshiper? Those approaching the footstool of God themselves having put on, as it were, their Sunday best. Arrayed in the beauty of garments worthy of entering the presence of a holy God? And I’m thinking, yes, yes, and . . . yes!

But the one which particularly fills me with awe, wonder, and worship this morning is the thought that I worship God in the splendor of my holiness. In the beauty of my adornment. That I bear the garments fit for the presence of God. Yet, garments not my own.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

(Isaiah 61:10 ESV)

People, I am all dressed up and I got some place to go!

Righteous as I wear the robe of Another’s righteousness. Holy, as I bear the holiness of the holy Son of God. Confident in my place before the God of creation because of the perfection credited to my account through the finished work of the cross and the risen power of the Savior.

Worshiping the LORD in the splendor of holiness. My holiness! My set-apartness in Him. My beautiful adornment the adorning of His beauty.

How can I help but worship Him?

Ascribing to Him the glory due His name for the grace which clothes me in the splendor of His holiness!

Amen?

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The Downside of Flannel Graph and CGI

Not gonna lie, I’m kind of hooked on Marvel movies. Not that I run to a movie theater whenever a new film is released, or that I watch them all the time, but I have been a bit driven to make sure I’ve seen all of them. (True confession: one weekend, recently, I had to fill in my Thor gap and so watched all three Thor movies over a couple of days).

It’s not that I’m a big Marvel fan, per se. Sure, I read comic books as a kid, but really was clueless as to the on-going story lines and character developments. No, what grabs me about the Marvel movies is how over-the-top they with their special effects. With the advent of CGI (computer generated imagery) there is almost no limit to bringing to the screen whatever the writers and producers can imagine. Characters that are bigger than life, a stage that transcends not only this world but even this solar system, and battle scenes that defy the imagination yet are portrayed so clearly for the viewer to experience.

Kinda’ like the people of God’s “IMAX experience” on the shores of the Red Sea.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. . . . Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” . . . The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. . . . Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses.

(Exodus 14:21-23, 28, 31 ESV)

Reading the familiar account of God’s intervention on His people’s behalf and I’m realizing the downside of flannel graph and CGI.

For many of us we’ve known the story almost all our lives. For those of my generation, as kids it wasn’t brought to the screen through CGI but to the Sunday School classroom with flannel graph. Fabric images placed on fabric flat board used to tell a fascinating story. The Red Sea deliverance a mainstream of the Bible stories we were taught as a kid. Then came Charleton Heston on the big screen and we formed an understanding of God’s redemption (and, I fear, sometimes a theology) according to Hollywood. And today, with all the assistance our brains have been given through CGI, it becomes even easier to imagine the unimaginable.

But, I fear, no less easy to walk in awe of the amazing. The familiarity producing a lethargy. An encounter of the divine kind in the past swallowed up with mundane concerns of today. For, as I read Exodus 13 through 15 this morning, I was struck by how a people could see what they saw at the edge of the Red Sea, experience what they experienced as witnesses of God’s mighty hand, and then end up grumbling against this same God because they’re thirsty (15:24). Fresh off of witnessing the power of God to stack up a sea of water, they turn so quickly to questioning God’s ability to furnish them a cup of water.

And I wonder at my own propensity to move so quickly from awe to angst. From wonder to worry. How familiarity with the divine so often, and so quickly fades when it comes to fretting about the day.

Be still and know that I am God, says the LORD (Ps. 46:10). Playback your own CGI, Conscious God Images, and let your jaw drop — behold your God in awestruck wonder. And then, walk with your God. Trust in your God. Even as you bow before your God.

Feeling pretty ramble-y, this morning. Wondering, I think, if digesting Marvel movies (and flannel graphs for that matter) may have quenched my ability to actually marvel. But then, reminded that even those who were there, and saw it firsthand, were quick to move on. So, I guess, I’m reminded afresh of my dependence on God even to wonder as I should, to worship as I should, and to walk as I should.

O that it would be so.

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Context of Faith

A telescope is a telescope. But depending on which end you hold up to your eye, it provides a very different view of the world. In order for a telescope to do what a telescope was made to do, you need to look into the right end of it. To bring things which are far away and fuzzy into a closer and clearer view, it’s important to apply the telescope correctly, to look at the world through the lens intended.

Can I suggest that faith is like a telescope? That faith is faith, and is to applied to how we view the world. But, like the telescope, we can view faith through the wrong end. We can see our world, our life circumstance, through the lens of our faith (the right way), or we can form our faith based on the realities of our world. That what we believe about God, and His love for us, can be shaped pragmatically by working backward from how our lives are playing out, rather than taking our daily testings, trials, and temptations and processing them through the lens of what we know to be true about God.

Make sense?

Psalm 27 is what’s got me thinking about the context of faith.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.

(Psalm 27:1-2 ESV)

Reading through David’s song it seems like it’s a back-and-forth processing of his current situation as he employs his faith telescope the way it should be employed. Evil doers assail me, but the LORD is my light, my salvation, my stronghold. Whom shall I fear? It is they who will eventually stumble.

But, if he were to turn it around, he might conclude that his God leaves him in darkness, has abandoned him to defeat, and provides very little protection because “evildoers assail me” and are eating him alive.

An army encamps around him, a war rages before him, yet he is confident that the LORD will “hide me in His shelter” and “conceal me under the cover of His tent” and “lift me high upon a rock.” Though the going is tough, yet he keeps going because of the assurance of eventual victory. Convinced that his head will be lifted up above his enemies and that he will, one day, offer sacrifices with shouts of joy in the very presence of God (27:3, 5-6).

How can he be so confident?

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.

(Psalm 27:4 ESV)

He’s a “one thing” guy. Seeking first God’s presence. Setting first his mind on things above. With the eye of faith knowing that what plays out today will resolve itself according to what God has promised for tomorrow. Not betrayed by the temptation to look through the other end of the telescope that says God can’t be trusted because life is so tumultuous.

His situation is desperate. Though all seem to have forsaken him (v. 10a), though false witnesses oppose him (v. 12a), though his adversaries are breathing down his neck (v. 12b), the songwriters response isn’t, “What does this teach me about You, God?” Instead, he pleads, “Teach me Your way, O LORD, . . . because of my enemies” (v. 11). His footing would be founded on the reminder of who God is. His path would be leveled by fresh instruction concerning the truth of what God had revealed. His stability a result of his surety concerning His Savior.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!

(Psalm 27:13 ESV)

The context of faith. The right way to view our world. The only way to keep on keepin’ on.

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

(Psalm 27:13-14 ESV)

By His grace. For His glory.

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My Integrity, Your Faithfulness

Don’t know what was happening in the songwriter’s life when he composed the twenty-sixth psalm, but whatever it was, he cries out to Jehovah for vindication. Sounds like there were some accusations made that weren’t true. Rumors being spread that were false. A smear campaign being conducted about the sorts of people the songwriter hung with and the kind of company he kept. A “he said, they said” sort of situation. And so, he prays for God to insert Himself as judge and preside over the proceedings. To investigate the accusations. To render a decision.

The evidence presented? The songwriter’s walk. His manner of life. His motivation and mission.

And the witnesses presented to the Judge of all the earth? “My integrity,” he says, and “Your faithfulness.”

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in Your faithfulness.

(Psalm 26:1-3 ESV)

They said that he hung with men who were liars and ran with those who were hypocrites. That he gathered with those bent on wickedness and evil (26:4-5). To which he responds, “I have walked in my integrity.”

While not pleading perfection, the songwriter does present the evidence of his intent. That structurally, his motivational ambition has been sound and pure. That though he may have stumbled along the way in step, he had not wavered inside as to desire. That he has sought to conduct himself throughout his life in a manner consistent with trusting the One who had given Him life.

And so he invites the Judge of all the earth to examine evidence that only an all-knowing Judge can examine. To test the inner-workings of his heart. To review the unspoken thoughts of his mind. To prove the completeness and fullness of his longing to trust in the Lord.

For I have walked in my integrity.

But integrity, consistency of purpose, and undivided desire is of little value if it’s consistently pursuing the wrong thing. If it’s aligned to an errant purpose or set on a corrupt prize. And so, while the songwriter could say with clear conscience, “I have walked in my integrity,” the judiciary weight of such evidence is that he walked in the Lord’s faithfulness.

Having trusted in the Lord, he would follow the Lord. Wanting to walk in a straight path, he wouldn’t rely on his own internal GPS, the way seeming right in his own eyes. Instead, we would seek the way of the One who had already brought him safe thus far, having already shown His steadfast love toward him.

And so, with singleness of mind, He would continue to trust that His God really was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He would walk in his integrity and He would walk in Jehovah’s faithfulness.

But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.

(Psalm 26:11-12 ESV)

But as for me, too. I have walked, and I shall walk in my integrity.

And, I walk in Your faithfulness.

By Your grace. For Your glory.

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